Ready to get started, 12 eager students hop onto stools arranged around an island within the large and bright custom-built school kitchen. Rachel Demuth, our class tutor for the day, starts by reminding us that “India is a huge country with thousands of different recipes and different ways of cooking“.
Key to the cuisine is understanding spice mixes – ‘if you use curry powder, everything tastes the same, so the most important thing is to make fresh spice mixes’. Although Rachel toasts and mixes the spices for us, we pass round the various ingredients, contribute by grinding seeds in a Japanese suribachi (grinding bowl), and smell, taste and ask questions throughout the process.
Next on the agenda is that famous Indian snack, the onion bhaji aka onion pakora (recipe) – sliced onions coated in a spiced besan flour batter and deep fried. The recipe can be applied to all manner of vegetables and Rachel also makes up a batch with cauliflower florets to show off its versatility. Whilst an assistant mans the fryer, Rachel takes us through the recipe for tamarind chutney, the ubiquitous brown sauce that is crucial to so many Indian street food classics.
After a welcome pause to eat hot-from-the-fryer bhajis with sweet sharp chutney, we divide into teams of three to make dough for besan flour flatbreads, laughing together as we roll out unevenly shaped breads using standard rolling pins as well as the traditional tapered Indian kind.
Next we make mung dhal, a recipe from Urvashi Roe, who teaches some of Demuth’s Gujarati cookery courses; as the dhal simmers, we shallow fry the flatbreads. As we cook, movable worktops are transformed into a candle lit dining table in the centre of the room. Large bowls of pomegranate and coriander basmati rice are served, alongside a selection of Indian chutneys and we each take along our freshly finished dhals and flatbreads for a well-deserved dinner.
Rachel Demuth came to be a chef by accident. On graduating university, where she converted to vegetarianism, a friend bet her that she couldn’t find a job in a day. Proving her friend wrong, she found more than a job at ethically run vegetarian tearoom Neal’s Yard Bakery in London – Rachel also discovered a lifelong love for working with food.
Moving to Bath she opened her own bakery, soon followed by Demuths restaurant in 1987, earning an enduring reputation for adventurous, high quality vegetarian cooking. Customers appreciated her use of seasonal and local ingredients to create dishes inspired by her extensive travels in Africa, India, the Far East, and South America and Rachel soon published cookery books to share her recipes.
In 2000, she launched Demuths Cookery School, teaching eager cooks how to make the kind of food they’d enjoyed in the restaurant. Initially run from her home, up a vertiginous hillside in residential Bath, the school moved to a more central location a few years ago; students now enjoy lessons in a beautiful Georgian building with stunning views of Bath Abbey and Parade Gardens. Indeed, many take advantage of the opportunity to combine a visit to the school with a tour of historic Bath.
Rachel’s ethos is to “rebrand vegetarian to vegetables“, a more inclusive term that reminds us that we should all be eating several portions a day. She aims to enthuse “enthuse people by putting vegetables centre stage, showing off their beauty on a plate… the colours, textures, and freshness” that can be achieved.
Although every Demuths course is suitable for vegetarians (and some are also vegan, raw and gluten-free), all are welcome and our group includes more than one omnivore. The atmosphere over dinner is jubilant, everyone delighted to discover that Indian cooking is so much simpler than they expected.
Kavey Eats attended this class as a guest of Demuths.